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Molly Ivins Education. 'You Got to Dance With Them What Brung You Politics in the Clinton Years'

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Us 10, New York 10, Berkeley 9, America 6, Mcnamara 5, Vietnam 4, Bob Bullock 4, Shriners 4, Alice Rivlin 3, Roy Cohn 3, Molly Ivins 3, Austin 3, Louisiana 3, Mr. Presley 3, Smith 3, Sy Newhouse 2, Texas 2, Ivins 2, Garbanzo 2, Ann 2,
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  CSPAN    Book TV Encore Booknotes    Molly Ivins  Education. 'You Got to Dance With  
   Them What Brung You Politics in the Clinton Years'  

    October 6, 2012
    6:00 - 7:00pm EDT  

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because of the nature of kentucky's post war history. if he was a union man and the state was really somewhat angry at the direction the union policy took. there's not much to celebrate about hot. -- holt he was in many way's lincoln's hammer. if you really didn't like emancipation and so on. kentucky wouldn't be inclined to celebrate him except the perhaps the the unionist in the state. he was intensely private. ..
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or anybody else, and holt did not represent that point of view. p. was very distressed at the rapidity with which the nation was unified and the former slaves welfare was abandoned, and so he was a contrarian, and again, didn't have a point in that narrative that was -- or a place where it was being celebrated in the way that the narrative was being developed after the war. so, he retreated and he was quite bitter actually at the end
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but he sort of retreated to his private world and try to reconstruct some relationships with family members, descendents of his own generation, his nephew and niece in particular and clung to his very good friends of his wife, but didn't do anything to keep himself on in the public eye. >> you won the very prestigious lincoln prize. in 2012 most recent one. has it changed anything for you? >> well, it's certainly a source of enormous pride and there is a sense in which you can feel very good and proud of your own work and confident in its value without getting outside accolades, but it doesn't hurt. [laughter] to get them and it's very reassuring. i feel that although i feel that
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i have respect in my profession you know it's not just in colby but the larger world of civil war history, i think it has given people a reason to take me more seriously, not that i felt that they didn't take me seriously before but it puts a little bounce in your step. >> for folks watching us who have not read the book yet, and have learned a fair amount of bout about the book here, what is to entice them to read this book? >> i think it is a great human story. so if you just want to read a biography of a fascinating human being, it's a great human story. if you want to -- if you like to study the civil war but you are eager to learn something really that you didn't know, i can assure you this is a great place to go because there
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are very few people who know much about joseph holt. of now more than before and i think he's a very important figure to no one i think it will open up all kinds of areas of study. just knowing more about him. so i think it's a great story. i think he's a very compelling figure and for a a civil war enthusiast why not learn something new? >> elizabeth thank you very much for spending time with us. >> thank you. >> syndicated columnist molly ivins -- in 1998 she sat down for an interview on booknotes to discuss her book, you got to dance with them that brung you" politics in the clinton years. the book is a collection of them
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is ivins's collinson discusses several topics including the financial corruption of the american political system and what it means to be a texan. an encore presentation of that interview now on booktv. c-span: molly ivins, where did you get the title, "you got to dance with them what brung you"? >> guest: it's one of the oldest sayings in politics, 'you got to dance with them what brung ya.' and what it means is that when you get to pu--when you get to office, when you get to public office, you vote with the folks who put you there. and that used to mean your constituents, the people who voted for you. but more and more what it means is you vote with the special interests who put up the money to get you to public office. and part of what this book is about is the corruption of the american political system by money. it's not as though american politics had ever been pristine and pure. of course not. money has always been there. but money nowadays is the dominant factor by such an
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enormous margin that i think it is making not just a qualitative but a--not just a quantitative but a qualitative difference in american politics. c-span: let me ask you about this cover right here. >> guest: mm. c-span: i want to know what you went through to get that picture right there. >> guest: well, it's a pickup truck. it's just a picture of me in a pickup truck. c-span: is what a--did you--were you actually sitting in the pickup truck? >> guest: sure. c-span: where'd you take it? >> guest: at--down in austin, texas, right near where i live. i drive a pickup truck myself, but that is not my pickup truck. that's an old one. c-span: why did they want you in a pickup truck for the cover? >> guest: they--they love some kind of texas connection. they always like to put something up on the cover that reminds people that i'm a texan. c-span: what does it mean to be a texan? >> guest: well, good lord, there's a question. i think my own feeling is that texans are just like everybody else, only more so; that there is a sw--slight quality of exaggeration, a slightly larger-than-life pie-eyed quality about the whole state that makes it a lot of fun. c-span: and what is it about lubbock that you like to write
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about? >> guest: i love to tease lubbock. c-span: where is it? >> guest: it's out in west texas, and it's just as flat as a pancake. and i must say, to the uninitiated eye, it does not appear to be one of the world's more attractive cities, but that's because you don't know the people there. they are just as straightforward and open-hearted and good as they can be. c-span: you write in your column--and this is a series of--well, i counted 70 columns? >> guest: that--i believe that's right. c-span: you write in your column about, 'lu--lubbock in my rearview mirror, perish the thought. for instance, one of the local television stations just ran a three-part investigative series on pantyhose called "born to run." is that true? >> guest: of course it's true. you can't make up stuff like that. and you never need to make up anything in texas because bizarre and strange things just always happen as a matter of course. c-span: now what's the difference between west texas and east texas? >> guest: oh, east texas is the very southern part of the state. in fact, i sometimes think that east texas is more like the old south than the old south is anymore.
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about 50 percent of the population there is black. it was plantation, cotton farming part of this--part of the state. but west texas is a totally different kettle of fish. it's the dry, ranching part of the state, a lot of--there are a fair number of hispanics down in west texas, but--and in south texas now, they're--they're the majority. but that looks--the western part of the state looks more like what you would think of texas in a--in a cowboy movie. c-span: i got to read you what you quoted a minister's saying to some texas senators. and this is--i g--this is a prayer that you had at one time? >> guest: prayer opening--opening of--every day in the session, we have prayer and we need it. c-span: and you called it, by the way--what do you call this texas legislature? you always have a little short... >> guest: the leg. c-span: the leg. >> guest: the leg. it ga--it's too long to write legislature every time you you need to talk about what they've been up to. c-span: did you invent that little diddly-doo? >> guest: well, actually, a lot of people around the leg call it the leg. c-span: 'the minister said, "father, i pray for these men
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and women. you know how much they need it. they are facing problems that are much too immense for them to handle alone. they are not smart enough, nor do they have the capacity. i ask you, would you do miracles for them?"' why did you use that? >> guest: it just seemed to me a perfectly wonderful prayer. if there were ever words to be addressed to the lord over the texas legislature, that fellah got it just about right. 'we need miracles, lord.' c-span: bob bullock? >> guest: bob bullock, the national politician of texas. he is a piece of work. he's... c-span: who is he? >> guest: ...the lieutenant governor of the state of texas. he's been around since god was a pup. he was--before he was lt. gov. , he was state comptroller. and under our constitution, like most other states, we have a weak governor system, so that the lieutenant governor is the guy who really has the clout. and bob bullock is one of the smartest, shrewdest, toughest and sometimes meanest politicians i have ever known.
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he's a remarkable piece of work. c-span: what's the story about hi--you have a couple of what you call drinkin' stories in there. is he an alcoholic? >> guest: yeah. he's been sober for quite some time. he went to whisky school out in california many years ago. but before that, he was a roarer, and he drank just an enormous amount. and as people who drink a lot do, he would, not infrequently, get himself into trouble. and one time one of his early wives--he used to get married a lot, too--kicked him out of the house, we assume for good cause, and he went over to stay with a friend of his. but his friend was, in turn, out drinking. bob couldn't get into that apartment. but he spotted his friend's car in the alley behind the apartment. so he opened the back door and crawled into the backseat and fell asleep in the backseat of the car. he woke up the next morning and the car was being driven down the highway by a total stranger. it was not his friend's car at all. and there was bob in the backseat, thinking about how to handle this. and, finally, he just sat bolt upright and said to the--into
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the driver's ear, 'hi there. i'm bob bullock, your secretary of state.' poor man almost drove off the road. c-span: is that a true story? >> guest: that's a true story. c-span: he's still lieutenant governor? >> guest: he's still lieutenant governor. c-span: you say that he's--off the record, is politically incorrect. >> guest: mm-hmm. c-span: what do you think of the whole business, first of all, of politically incorrect? >> guest: i think it's much ado about nothing. i--the idea that somehow this is--some kind of police come down upon you if you use words that are offensive, i think, is nonsense. it seems to me that political correctness was--is maybe just an attempt to codify good manners or kindness. you don't go around using words that offend people, if you have any sense at all. on the other hand, to prissy up language seems to me always a mistake. i like language that's strong and earthy and vigorous and salty. i like to use the full range of the english language.
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c-span: you said that bullock calls feminists, quote, "them hairy-legged women." >> guest: "hairy-legged women." "them hairy-legged women." and he does that all the time to annoy us, of course. c-span: but--but--but you say he's also good on women's issues. >> guest: he is, yeah. c-span: so could you--do people excuse people when they're on the right side? >> guest: in texas, i think of necessity, we have a larger tolerance for--for politicians who are not politically correct. i mean, we could wait a long darn time before we found one who always spoke as we wanted. c-span: there's some words i want you to define. >> guest: all right. c-span: wumperjawed. >> guest: wumperjawed--that just left him wumperjawed. that means with his mouth not only open, staring in amazement, but so amazed he kind of went--went funny. like you can say of a suitcase, when you mess up the lid to the body of the suitcase, the--your suitcase is wumperjawed.
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it means just astonished. left him wumperjawed with his mouth hangin' open. c-span: did you invent that word? >> guest: oh, no. that's an old texas word. c-span: slimeballs. c-span: slimeballs. >> guest: slimeballs? well, that seems to me that that is a word in great general use. and--and a useful word it is because there are many of them hangin' around. people with no ethics, no integrity, just total slimeballs. c-span: good on ya. >> guest: good on ya. that's--that's another old texas expression. good on you, you can even say it. it's--it's approbation. it's--it's encouragement. you're doing right. c-span: you wrote a column about ann richards. said, 'good on ya, ann.' >> guest: oh, yeah. c-span: why? >> guest: yeah. well, she was--had been defeated at that point. she wa--lost the governorship to george w. bush, and i wrote a column about the four years she was in office. and it's my judgment that ann richards was an awfully good governor, and so i think i closed that column by saying, 'good on ya.' c-span: what makes you a good
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governor? >> guest: well, as i say, in our state we have the weak governor system, so that really not a great deal is required of the governor, not necessarily to know much or do much. and we've had a lot of governors who did neither. ann, i think, was one of our more effective governors, although in the odd way of american politics i'm--i'm not sure i could point to a whole lot that she actually got done. it was mostly a matter of keeping bad things from happening. and one of the main reasons she lost the governorship was because she vetoed the conceed handgun bill. and we've got a bunch of gun nuts in texas who are bound and determined that they should be able to march around with concealed weapons. c-span: what's a gun nut? >> guest: somebody who loves guns--loves guns; think that that's just the most important thing in the whole world. c-span: did you ever know one? >> guest: known lots of 'em. c-span: and what are they like? >> guest: they're people who are crazy about guns. i have never--i don't hunt, myself, but i've--i know--sure do know a lot of people who do.
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and i've never thought, especially in a--in a state like texas, where there's an awful lot of outdoors, that it's ridiculous to try and take away long guns. but i've never seen any use in a--in a--in a society that is--what are we now?--at least 70 percent urban. what is the point of a handgun? what is the point of lettin' people have handguns? it's just endless tragedy after endless tragedy because of these things. they're me--little machines designed to do nothing but kill people. and the na--amount of people in this--number of people in this country who get liquored up or have no sense to begin with, that get furiously angry and go and kill one another--i just think it's ridiculous. c-span: you use the word 'gummit.' >> guest: gummit. c-span: g-u-m-m-i-t, gummit. >> guest: that's the way texans say government. and that gummit--'you know, we've to get the gummit off our backs, got to get the gummit off our'--you know, that's the way people talk. i just write the way people talk. i don't invent this stuff.
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c-span: what about bidness? b-i-d-n-e-s-s? >> guest: bidness. that's exactly the way texans say the word 'business.' bidness. c-span: they also--all texans talk that way? >> guest: as near--when i'm--i'm not sure i could say all anymore. we've got a lot of texans who've moved in from somewhere else, but any--almost anyone said--who's a native would say that, bidness. c-span: now what about sumbitch? >> guest: sumbitch is not a dirty word in texas. it's not like sob. a sumbitch is the texas word for fellah or guy. 'well, he's a good old sumbitch.' 'and that then sumbitch said to me, he said'--and there's no--there's no offense intended. c-span: snerk. >> guest: boy, i don't even remember snerk. i must have been... c-span: yeah, you called somebody--i'll get it right--snerks--you said they were a snerk. i--i'd never seen that one before. you don't remember that, huh? >> guest: sometimes i do make up words, actually. c-span: yeah. you said, 'be still my heart. the single most trans -- transcendent moment of a lifetime covering politics occurred tuesday night. and you poor snerks in television land...' >> guest: yeah. c-span: '... missed it.' >> guest: luckless fellows. you luckless fellows. c-span: did you make that word
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up? >> guest: i did make that word up. it just sounds right. c-span: and this is another one: nuthatch. >> guest: oh, well, nuthatch is a fine insult, referring to someone being a little bit loosely wrapped, someone being a little--perhaps not having a firm grip on reality. you know, when you write about texas politics, it is necessary to find words that are highly descriptive. c-span: garbanzo brains? >> guest: oh, garbanzo brains, right. bean brains, tiny, tiny, tiny brains. c-span: what's a garbanzo bean? >> guest: it's a bean. it's a bean. c-span: whoever started using that? 'cause that's n--that's--i've heard that for years, garbanzo. >> guest: i don't know. c-span: how about gazoonies? >> guest: gazoonies, another word--i tell you, the--the need you have for descriptive terms for stupid when you write about texas politics is practically infinite. now i'm not claiming that our state legislature is dumber than the average state legislature, but it tends to be dumb in such an outstanding way.
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it's, again, that texas quality of exaggeration and being slightly larger than life. and there are a fair number of people in the texas legislature of whom it could fairly be said, 'if dumb was dirt, they would cover about an acre.' and i'm not necessarily opposed to that. i'm--agree with an old state senator who always said that, 'if you took all the fools out of the legislature, it would not be a representative body anymore.' c-span: you say--and i wrote a bunch of quotes down from your columns--'anyone who doesn't make enemies in office isn't worth spit.' >> guest: that's right. seems to me if you're gonna do something, if you're really gonna get se--something done, you're gonna tick somebody off pretty seriously. and i am more and more persuaded that politics itself is the art of finding that thin, tiny sliver of daylight in the huge wall of obstruction that prevents anything from getting done about anything.
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c-span: where do you live? >> guest: i live in austin, texas, the state capital. c-span: how long have you lived there? >> guest: since, let's see--this go-around, since about '85, '86. i had lived in austin earlier. i was editor--co-editor of the texas observer back in the '70s. c-span: and d--were you born there? >> guest: no. i'm from east texas, originally. c-span: where? >> guest: i went to high school in houston, texas. c-span: how did you get interested in journalism? >> guest: well, i sort of fell into it backwards. when i was coming up, about the only talent i ever showed, aside from basketball, which looked like it would be pretty hard to make a living doing that, was for writing. and i loved to read. and my only interest--my big interest--love besides literature was politics. so i sort of fell naturally backwards into journalism. combine writing and politics and there you are with journalism. c-span: but where'd the politics
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come from? >> guest: well, my first political involvement was in the civil rights movement, where i came along at a time when if you were young and idealistic and in the south, that was--you pretty much were drawn to that. c-span: but what got you interested in that? what--what kind of a--what was the home like? >> guest: my family is quite conservative. my father is, i would say, extremely conservative. i--it was--it--it--it... c-span: is he alive? >> guest: yes, he is. my mama, bless her heart, passed on. i sometimes think it may have been my mother's fault. my mother tried--she--she was certainly, i assure you without success, to drill good manners into my head. and in some ways i think that manners are just a formal expression of how you treat people. and in--the way black people were treated before the civil
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rights movement, it was clear to me, was very wrong. it was an easy call. c-span: were they political conservatives, ideological conservatives, your parents? >> guest: yeah. both republicans, lifelong. c-span: you write a column about your mom. it's the last thing in the book, i think. >> guest: yeah. c-span: 'the good mother who put a shoe in the icebox.' >> guest: my mama was ditzy, there's no question about it. she truly was. she was absent-minded. she was fuzzy about the practical details of life. to--and--and--and it was--of course, it made for some hilarious stories. and we loved to tease her. c-span: well, you write that she was also lazy... >> guest: yep. c-span: ... a horrible housekeeper... >> guest: a horrible housekeeper. c-span: ...somewhat depressive... >> guest: mm-hmm. c-span: ...and addicted to soap operas, but, hey, nobody's perfect. >> guest: that's my mom. c-span: what do you mean by lazy? >> guest: well, if my--my mother had her druthers, she would not be up and bustling about doing things. she li--liked to sit a lot, watch television, eat, talk. she enjoyed people. she was an absolute charmer. c-span: how many of--of you were there? >> guest: three kids.
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and my sister is now teaching school in albuquerque, new mexico. my brother's a lawyer in boerne, texas. c-span: you wrote in the book--you said, 'she went to--on to smith'... >> guest: mm-hmm. c-span: ... northampton, massachusetts--'where her mother had gone before her and i went in my turn.' and then you have a little parenthesis, 'i know this is so wasp i'm about to erp myself.' >> guest: can you imagine anything--anything more wasp than your grandmother, your mother and yourself all having gone to the same college? c-span: what about smith? >> guest: smith? it's a good school. c-span: what'd you learn there? what--what--what impact did it have on you? >> guest: i really do think i got a good education at smith. i was not--i--i'm not one of those people who thinks of my college years as a happy golden time. i mean, i was a texan who was up in massachusetts, so first of all i was cold. i mean, i couldn't bel--i was freezing to death the whole time i was up there. and i found yankees rather, in some ways, chilly and difficult
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compared to the texans i was used to. but i do think i got an awfully good education. c-span: what'd you study? >> guest: grateful for it. history. my--my major was history. c-span: and how long did you spend with the new york times as a reporter? >> guest: six years with the new york times. some of it in new york as a political reporter at city hall in albany and then later as bureau chief out in the rocky mountains. c-span: would you take a little time and tell us about reporting on the funeral of elvis presley? >> guest: oh, now there is something that when i've been standing in the checkout line at the grocery store and if i really need to impress people, i just let fall that i covered elvis' funeral. and, boy, people just practically draw back with awe. it may yet turn out to be my greatest claim to fame. i was sitting in the new york city times one day when i noticed a whole no--knot of editors up around the desk having a--a great scrum of concern, you could tell. it looked sort of like an anthill that had just been stepped on.
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and it turns out--the new york times has a large obituary desk, and they prepare obituaries for anybody of prominence who might croak. but it turns out--you may recall that elvis presley died untimely and they were completely unprepared. now this is an enormous news organization. they have rock music critics and classical music critics and opera critics, but they didn't have anybody who knew about elvis presley's kind of music. so they're lookin' across a whole acre of reporters, and you could see them decide, 'ah-ha, ivins. she talks funny. she'll know about mr. presley.' so i wound up writing elvis' obituary for the new york times. i had to refer to him throughout as mr. presley. it was agonizing. that's the style at the new york times--mr. presley. give me a break. and the next day they sold more newspapers than they did after john kennedy was assassinated, so that even the editors of the new york times, who had not quite, you know, been culturally aton--tuned to elvis, decided that we should send someone to report on the funeral. and i drew that assignment. what a scene it was.
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c-span: you--you say in the book that you got in the cab and you said, 'take me to graceland.' the cabbie peels out of the airport doing 80 and then turns full around to the backseat and drawls, 'ain't it a shame elvis had to die while the shriners are in town?' >> guest: that's exactly what he said. 'shame elvis had to die while the shriners are in town.' and i kind of raised by eyebrows. and sure enough, i realized what he--what he meant after i had been there for awhile because, you know, shriners in convention--i don't know if you've ever seen a whole lot of shriners in convention, but they were having a huge national convention that very week in memphis. and they tend to wear their little red fezzes, and sometimes they drink too much and they march around the hotel hallways tooting on new year's eve horns and riding those funny little tricycles and generally cutting up and having a good time. that's your shriners in convention, always something very edifying and enjoyable to watch. but they--every--every hotel room in memphis was occupied with celebrating shriners, and then elvis dies and all these
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tens of thousands of grieving, hysterical elvis presley fans descend on the town. so you got a whole bunch of sobbing, hysterical elvis fans, you got a whole bunch of cavorting shriners. and on top of that they were holding a cheerleading camp. and the cheerleading camp--i don't know if your memory--with the ethos of the cheerleading camp, but the deal is that every school sends its team--team of cheerleaders to cheerleading camp. and your effort there at the camp is to win the spirit stick, which looks, to the uninitiated eye, a whole lot like a broom handle painted red, white and blue. but it is the spirit stick. and should your team win it for three days running, you get to keep it. but that has never happened. and the way you earn the spirit stick is you show most spirit. you cheer for breakfast, lunch and dinner. you cheer when the pizza man brings the pizza. you do handsprings end over end down the hallway to the bathroom. i tell you, those young people will throw--show an amount of spirit that would just astonish you in an effort to win that stick. so here i was for an entire week, dealing with these three groups of people: the young
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cheerleaders trying to win the spirit stick, the cavorting shriners and the grieving, hysterical elvis fans. and i want to assure you that the new york times is not the kind of newspaper that will let you write about that kind of rich human comedy. c-span: why? >> guest: because the new york times, at least in my day, was a very stuffy, pompous newspaper. c-span: what about today? >> guest: a little bit better, little bit better than it was. c-span: and... >> guest: has--has--it has a tendency, recidivist tendencies, though. you--you will notice if you read the times, it--it collapses into pomposity and stuffiness with some regularity. c-span: why did you leave it? >> guest: well, i--i actually got into trouble at the new york city times for describing a community chu--chicken killing out west as a gang pluck. abe rosenthal was then the editor of the times and he was
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not amused. c-span: did--but did they let it go? did they let it... >> guest: oh, no. it never made it in the paper. good heavens, no. such a thing would never get in the times in my day. c-span: and--and so what happened? >> guest: oh, i--i was just sort of put on the--on the--on the s list, we used to call it at the times. the shit list, what the hell. these people are grownups. c-span: and--and--and what happened then? >> guest: well, it just--i decided that i didn't have enough time in my life to waste trying to get off the new york times' shit list over a silly thing like that. and i got a call from the dallas times herald and what they said was, 'come home and we will give you absolute freedom. you can write whatever you want about whatever you want to, and you can say whatever you want to.' and, you know, in the to.' and, you know, in the newspaper business, it doesn't get a lot
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better than that. i... c-span: did they ever interfere with you at the dallas times herald? >> guest: almost never. almost never. and--and if they changed anything, i would--they would bring it to me and i would look at and say, 'you're absolutely right. let's change that.' c-span: you know, there's--i noticed i was reading the--the--the chapter on 'dumped by disney,' which is about... >> guest: mm-hmm. c-span: ...the fort worth star telegram. >> guest: the fort worth star telegram for which i now work. c-span: and in there, you had this quote. you said, "trouble is that the news business is rapidly becoming one big plantation. i'm looking over the list of potential bidders the same way they're looking over us," meaning who's gonna buy the fort worth star telegram. by the way, since you've gone there--and how long have you been there? >> guest: since 1990. c-span: how many times has it been sold? >> guest: three times. that's if c--that's not at all unusual in our business. these giant media corporations keep merging and merging and--and you keep getting bought by somebody else and somebody else. c-span: right below this you write, 'newhouse is on the list. murray kempton once observed, "i think sy newhouse has lost his moral compass since roy cohn died."
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what do you mean by that? >> guest: the single meanest line i ever heard said about anybody. roy cohn--the late roy cohn was, in my opinion, one of the most dispic--despicable human beings who ever lived. he was a--a ruthless lawyer and shameless ho--human being. and i know that he has friends still living, but i'm--i'm entitled to my opinion, too. i think roy cohn was one of the most despicable people who ever lived. and he was, in fact, sy newhouse's lawyer, the lawyer to this great magnate--this media magnate, newhouse. c-span: well, the reason i brought it up is i wanted to ask you--is--sy newhouse owns the book company that published your book. >> guest: that's right. that's right. c-span: did you ever worry about putting that in there? that they might not publish it? >> guest: no, i never worry about biting the hand that feeds me. i'm--you know, i realize that's an old saying, but i think you're much better off telling the truth. why would a wo--you know, why--i've never worried about offending the powers that be. c-span: anybody interfere with you at the fort worth tar--star telegram ever? >> guest: same--same, like, deal with the times-herald. they--we--we just--every--if
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they have a problem, they bring it to me and i almost always agree that whatever they think needs to be changed needs to be changed. but it rarely happens. c-span: in your book, one of the columns is about berkeley. >> guest: mm-hmm. c-span: when did you go to berkeley? >> guest: last year, 1997, i got to teach at the university of california at berkeley just for one quarter. i--and it was the first time i had ever really taught. and i loved it. c-span: you call the place a 'lunatic comedy.' >> guest: oh, well, of course, i'm gonna make fun of it. i mean, berkeley, california, if you are from texas, is just hilarious. c-span: why? >> guest: well, of course, it is just the absolute center of liberalism and political correctness. and it is a veritable hotbed of people, of--bless their hearts, who all think alike, in a liberal way. and, of course, i'm sometimes called a liberal myself, and you would think i would have felt right at home there. but i just am so used to--i'm so used to texas that i found the culture at berkeley hysterical.
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c-span: you write, 'personally, i think living in berkeley is like dwelling with hobbits.' >> guest: mm-hmm. c-span: 'any day now i expect to catch them hiding their furry little feet inside their birkenstocks. they are so kind and gentle, they are--they all care. they help the homeless. they are proud of their eccentrics. two of the most notable people in town are the naked man and the pink man.' what's that mean? who are they? >> guest: yeah. well, they are local characters there in berkeley. one guy walks around with no clothes on. he's the naked man. and the other guy wears nothing but pink. it is just--he wears nothing but pink, and everybody knows him. 'there's the pink man.' it's the kind of community where people like that are rather relished and cherished. c-span: explain what this means here. 'i expect to catch them hiding their furry little feet inside their birkenstocks.' what's a birkenstock? >> guest: the hobbits--oh, the birkenstocks are those--those famous sandals that--they're--they're good for your feet. they're--they're not fashion sandals. they're--they're--they're kind of squat-looking sandals that hippies and people--people with
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foot trouble wear. and, of course, berkeley, being full of people who are far too sensible to ruin their feet by walking around in high heels, there are a lot of folks who wear those sandals there. c-span: so what did you find in the classroom? >> guest: very, very bright people. i was really pleased. i had thought, thought--like many people in our business, i've been sort of grumpy about young people coming into journalism recently because it seems to me we've gotten an awful lot of ambitious little careerists, and i keep looking at them and thinking to myself, 'damn, why didn't they go into investment banking?' but the--the students i found at berkeley were not just bright but idealistic to a remarkable degree. c-span: what are they gonna find once they get into the business? >> guest: well, they're gonna have some of it ground out of them, there's no question about that. but it's my hope that they'll stay with it long enough to make a difference. c-span: why--why will they have
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it ground out of them? >> guest: well, part of it is an old tradition in the newspaper business, as is true in many others. there is a sort of tradition that--i--i call it the marine corps mentality. you know, 'listen, son, i ate shit when i was young and you can do it, too. it'll make a man out of you. it'll put hair on your chest.' i mean, the idea that you should somehow, as part of making someone pay their dues, put them through a bad time. and i think it's a terrible mistake. one of the things we still do in the newspaper business is take bright, talented, idealistic young people and give them the world's worst, most boring assignments. we make them write obituaries or some boring thing. why not take them and put them immediately on some big series, where they--you could use all that energy and idealism? i've always thought that was a mistake, the way we treat young people in our business. and it's true in a lot of fields. c-span: you know, you--and whenever you appear on the network here, you use the language that you want to use
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whenever you want to use it. and there is a column in here, as you know, in which you have a little gimmick. >> guest: mm-hmm. c-span: i--i'm not sure i can repeat it--maybe you can--where you list one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight words. >> guest: right. mm-hmm. c-span: and then you say, 'hold on.' and then you go on to write sentences for each one. >> guest: uh-huh. uh-huh. cock, prick, ass, breast. and what i'm--all of which, of course, are legitimate words used in--in one context and--and then in another context have connotations that are either vulgar language or--or... c-span: let me give the audience an idea of what you're talking about. >> guest: yeah. c-span: here's a sentence you use. 'this needle and prick all those balloons, so we can--take this needle and prick all those balloons, so we can finish cleaning up.' and another one you have here, 'according to the bible, mary rode on an ass into bethlehem.' another line, 'it was all those bases on balls that cost us the
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game.' in other words, you take those words... >> guest: right. right. c-span: ...and put them in a sentence where people weren't offended. >> guest: yeah. and it's funny, people will get upset at what they--they think is vulgar language, forgetting that words often have dual meanings. and what i was--that--the reason i made that point in the column is because i do think that context is everything, and this was in--in a column about criticism and, indeed, censorship of a television program, from which snippets had been taken that made it look as though it were some, you know, very prurient, salacious program when, actually, it was a very fine and intelligent program. c-span: you use the word 'greed'... >> guest: greed. c-span: ...'cynicism'... >> guest: yeah. c-span: ...and you write a lot about lying. there's a column on april the 11th, 1955: 'we were wrong. 11th, 1955: 'we were wrong. this time he's right.'
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you're talking about robert mcnamara. >> guest: robert mcnamara. c-span: what--what got you in the i--interested in writing about robert mcnamara? >> guest: mcnamara's book, wh--in which he essentially apologized for vietnam and admitted that it was a terrible mistake, had just come out. and what interested me was the reaction. there were an extraordinary number of people who sort of refused to accept mcnamara's apology. and i am of the vietnam generation. it was a war i opposed very strongly. i think it was one of the most horrible events in the entire history of this nation. 'mistake' is a word that barely covers that tragedy. but it seemed to me impossible not to accept and recognize mcnamara's, finally, painfully having come to the realization of--of not only having been wrong ,but the terrible cost of having been that wrong. c-span: what do you think of him? >> guest: robert strange
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mcnamara. that middle name was always telling, i thought. i thought it was brave of him and right of him to have written that book and that he deserves to be commended for it. c-span: you write in that same column, 'then we cannot understand how we got from the end of 'nam to where we are now, all this distrust and dislike that americans now have for one another, all this cynicism.' >> guest: i think that vietnam was a terribly destructive episode. and i'm--it's interesting to me, as somebody who was young in the '60s, to hear now the constant references to the '60s as though sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll were the only things that happened. i was very--like many young people in the '60s, i was very political, and as far as i was concerned, the '60s were about first the civil rights movement and then the anti-war movement. and i missed sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll entirely. damn, what a fool. but it was a time, i thought, of great idealism. and then when--when the country
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got dragged into vietnam, i think it dragged a lot of people into despair and cynicism and nihilism because it was just so stupid. c-span: you say that you have lessons that have been learned from all this. >> guest: yeah. c-span: 'don't lie.' >> guest: don't lie. c-span: how much of that's going on today? >> guest: a lot. c-span: 'certitude is the enemy.' >> guest: always. c-span: what do you mean? >> guest: i think that if you are in a position of political leadership and you don't question yourself, you're apt to go very wrong. i think a becoming degree of self-doubt is one of the best qualities we can look for in leaders. c-span: yeah, you say self-doubt is good. then you say, 'particularly difficult lessons in a nervous age when the search for certainty compels so many.' >> guest: yeah, but i think a lot of people are looking for certainty. they--they f--are very, very uncomfortable with the idea that things are never gonna be cut and dry, that there's never gonna be a set of rules that
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always apply. c-span: down--y--i don't think we can see this. we'd have to get a real close-up here. but right down here at the very bottom it says here, when--you know, the little--the little marks on the book that tell you what this--where this belongs in a bookstore. it says 'current affairs/humor.' if you had to pick one of those, which one would you pick first? >> guest: i'd pick humor, of course. c-span: why? >> guest: well, i do think it's important to--and wr--and i do try to write about politics in a way that makes people laugh. now there's two reasons for that. one is politics is intrinsically funny and that--and that this sh--should be noted and appreciated by all. and second, i think it's important wh--in--in a time when people l--so look down on politics and are so reluctant to get involved or even learn very much about it. you know, i constantly hear people say things like, 'eh, politics. they're all crooks. who cares?' blah, blah, blah, blah. very dismissive. and it seems to me that, in part, that's because people who
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write and report about politics make it so boring. i mean, you read those newspaper articles that start, 'house bill 327 was passed out of subcommittee by a unanimous vote on tuesday,' (snores). i mean, who wants to read any more than that? you take--i've seen reporters, time and again, take all the juice and joy and life and comedy and drama and humanity and excitement out of politics. they just wring it all out--clop--and what they leave you with is this dried set of lifeless fact that has nothing--doesn't reflect at all the--the whole splendid panorama that is politics. c-span: july the fourth, 1995--you like to write july fourth's columns, don't you? >> guest: yeah. like, every--every time we have a birthday in this country, i sort of write a column celebrating us. i like to do that. c-span: you--on--in '95 you said, 'i am a longtime fan of our national habit of polling ourselves to find out how dumb we are.' >> guest: isn't this wonderful? we do that all the time, always
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taking polls to find out how stupid we are. and then we sit there reading the post going, 'oh, my god, look at this. oh, we're all so stupid.' isn't that wonderful? isn't that c--such a comic thing for people to do? c-span: well, why do we do it? >> guest: 'cause we're funny people. c-span: this--another line i underlined, 'this is far more interesting than living in canada, where the national motto is "now let's not get excited" >> guest: i swear that's true. i've been up to canada. that is their national motto, 'now let's not get excited.' i was up there one time when they were having a national election that was practically a revolution. they threw out the party that was in power. they co--completely took off a party that had been there forever, practically disappeared. a whole new set of folks came in, and all the commentators were there on election night saying, 'now let's not get excited.' when they win the world series, instead of cutting up and going wild and people downtown honking and dancing the way they would in america, instead the canadians always go, 'this is quite wonderful, but let's not get excited.'
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c-span: later in that column you said, 'we're the country that put elvis on a stamp'--you--by the way, did you... >> guest: very proud of... c-span: ...did like elvis presley? >> guest: well, of course. c-span: 'we buy pink lemonade and striped toothpaste.' now i didn't think one of our favorite people would get it into this book, but here he is: '67. 2 percent of us believe that alexis de tocqueville never should have divorced blake carrington.' >> guest: what a great nation. what a great nation. c-span: then you have one--let's see, the next one in here on the fourth of july is july 3rd, 1997. 'and as we wish our country happy birthday, endeavor to recall two things: one, most americans really are much nicer people than we often give ourselves credit for being; and two, the pursuit of happiness was an 18th century locution for the search for justice and right.' >> guest: yeah. i think those are both important things. one is that--and i think this falls to people in our business, brian. the media presents such a negative picture.
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we're s--we're just so relentlessly negative. i don't think it's that the media are left wing or right wing, but they are negative. and that's partly the nature of the world. if you've ever noticed that--the world news is always worse than the national news, and the national news is always worse than the state news, and the state news is always worse than the local news, and the local news is always worse than whatever has happened in your neighborhood that day. well, of course, the world is pretty much like your neighborhood. the whole world is pretty much like your neighborhood. not much horrible ever happens there. but the news business so focuses on the bizarre, the disastrous and the unusual that people get the sense that the world out there is much more dangerous and dark than it actually is. the world's full of nice folks. and then my second point in that piece about the pursuit of happiness, people sometimes think that the pursuit of happiness is--you know, somehow it's written in the constitution that we all have a right to go off on a great search for self-fulfillment and satisfaction and frisks and jollification. actually, that's about looking
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for a way to find justice. c-span: you say the nicest people in america are in minnesota. >> guest: i believe that it--to be absolutely true. now minnesotans are a little tired of being called nice, understandably so. they sort of wince. but the truth is they're awfully nice in minnesota. c-span: but you wrote a column from the mall there, the big... >> guest: the mall of america. what a place. what a--wh--like the pyramids of ancient egypt, like the coliseum of ancient rome, we have the mall of america. c-span: wh--did you--when'd you go there? >> guest: it's been a couple of years now. what an amazing place. what a--what a great temple to consumption that is. c-span: what did you see? >> guest: oh, there's a world of stuff at the mall of america. you just hardly would not believe it. there's entire stores that sell nothing but barrettes and hair bows. there's stores that sell nothing but different kinds of popcorn. you would not believe the variety of stuff there is in this world. c-span: why are we such a
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consumer nation? >> guest: well, now there's a good question. it's partly because in a--in the capitalist system, they push you to consume. and an enormous amount of time, money and skill is spent persuading us to buy things like pink lemonade and striped toothpaste, which are not exactly basic necessities in this world. the amount of money spent on a single television ad is frequently--a 30-second ad frequently costs more than the entire 30-minute program surrounding the ad. c-span: all the columns you've written over the years--doesn't have to be the most--you know, the one that got the most reaction, but wh--what are the kind of columns that you hear from people by letter or e-mail? i know you--you wrote here one where somebody appended a copy of a column and i--called you a commie fag lover? is
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commie fag lover? is that--was... >> guest: commie fag lover, yeah. i get a lot of those. c-span: why? >> guest: there are certain topics--i used to sort of say, well, there are certain topics that sort of rattle their cages. you're always gonna hear from the haters if you write about death penalty, abortion--trying to think of some others. there's--there are a series of--of subjects that just always touch off the nutcases. and then i thought about it again and i thought, 'gosh, it's--practically everything i write touches them off.' oh, yeah, gays, homosexuals. that--that sets them off, too. c-span: m--and i actually had a quote that you wrote where you said that--where is it?--"god, gays and guns are always good for some excitement." >> guest: you bet. i'll tell you, you wanna--you wanna stir things up and get people screaming, you bring up god, gays and guns in my state. c-span: now you talk about conservatives in here on occasion and you say, 'mean as hell with hide-off conservatives.' >> guest: mean as hell with a hide-off. yeah, that's a certain kind of conservative. c-span: what kind is that?
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>> guest: just teeth-rattling mean, meaner than a skillet full of rattlesnakes. c-span: and wh--how do you know they're mean? >> guest: we--we have them down in texas. because they'll do things that are gratuitously cruel in the name of conservatism, like, you know, cut milk for children or something that is--just makes no sense fiscally. c-span: why do they do it? >> guest: 'cause they're mean. c-span: do you think they get up that way every day? they just... >> guest: th--there is--it's--it's always hard for me to identify the--you know, i--i think this is true on the liberal side, too, but the--the legitimate, thoughtful, philosophical, consistent conservatism--and there are a lot of conservatives i admire, i really do--both--both politi... c-span: name one. >> guest: jim kilpatrick seems to me to be a very thoughtful conservative. c-span: from? >> guest: the--the writer james... c-span: oh, jack... >> guest: yeah. c-span: james jackson kilpatrick. >> guest: yeah. yeah. i find him consistently thoughtful and--and a very principled person, and i understand that political point of view. but to me, we've been getting
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more and more people to the right of people that i always thought were very conservative, like kilpatrick and barry goldwater. now we got people to the right of them who seem to think that--that government should be used in a punitive way against poor people. i mean, it's not just that they're opposed to welfare. it's like, 'let's really make sure these people never get a chance to get anywhere.' i can't--it's just so mean-spirited. c-span: which cons... >> guest: and i don't think most people are like that. c-span: which conservative makes your skin crawl the most when you hear them, see them, talk to them, read them? >> guest: jesse helms sets me off pretty bad. i'm--i just find him a--a mean-spirited person. there are a few others. c-span: you talk a lot about texans in your book. phil gramm? >> guest: phil gramm, there's another one. he's--he's--there's something in addition to--to the mean-spiritedness. there's a kind of smarminess about gramm that i find distasteful.
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but then i don't like him. some people do. c-span: congressman tom delay from houston? >> guest: oh, no. now we're talking about my favorite trio of bozos. c-span: they are? >> guest: tom delay, dick armey and bill archer are these three powerful republican congressmen from texas, and i must say of the three delay is probably the only one who is actively stupid. the other two are really fairly bright. i just happen not to agree with them politically. but delay, sometimes you do have to question that man's sense. c-span: like what? >> guest: oh, he--one of his ideas is that we should bring back ddt. he's--he's one of those people who thinks that environmentalism is--is a--a non--a nonsensical and pernicious thing. he wants to bring back ddt. c-span: you always refer to him as 'the exterminator.' >> guest: he used to be--be a bug exterminator in sugar land, texas. that's what he did for a living. he exterminated bugs before he
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went into congress. c-span: have you ever met him? >> guest: oh, sure. c-span: do--does he know you don't care for him? >> guest: oh, yeah, sure. he wa--he wa--he was in the texas legislature for a while. he wasn't--i never thought he was that bad when he was in the legislature. he was--really seemed like a sort of regular vanilla republican. but it's--he certainly has taken on some strange coloration in washington. c-span: you refer to bill clinton as maybe chauncy gardner. who wa... >> guest: yeah. c-span: who was chauncy gardner? >> guest: he's a figure in a film called "being there," who is an opaque person into whom other people read whatever they want. in this figure, the chauncy gardner guy, conservatives think he's conservative, liberals think he's a liberal. you know, people read into him whatever they wanna see there. and there is a touch of that about bill clinton. c-span: what do you read into him? >> guest: i think he's a politician, and i say that--i'm maybe one of the last people
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left in america who does not use that word as a pejorative. c-span: actually, you--let me quote... >> guest: yeah. c-span: ...what you say about him. you say, "he's the most skilled politician i've ever watched work." >> guest: i like to watch politicians work. remember when i was talking earlier about the art of politics being able to find this little, thin sliver that allows you to get something done? well, it gets harder and harder to get anything done about anything because our politics have gotten to be so headbutty and--and people just going against one another out of knee-jerk reaction rather than concentrate on fi--fixing a problem. and clinton is good, and by that i mean he can find a way to get things done. it's not necessarily the solution he'll finally get through, may not be the best way to fix the problem, may not be the most efficient or least costly, but it is the politically doable way. and that's--that's a great skill. that's actually a great art. c-span: anything about him you don't like? >> guest: sure.
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he's a politician. you know, like all politicians, he's a compromiser, and in my opinion he compromises far to easily and far too often. he'll often give away 9/10ths of the loaf just to get one slice. seems to me he ought to hold out for at least half. c-span: now, for whatever reason, in the last six months we've happened to have interview alice rivlin and donna shalala on this network. >> guest: mm-hmm. c-span: and i know donna shalala had a book party for you here in this town. but in each case they talk about the hiking that goes on and that you're in that group. >> guest: there is a bunch of people, almost all of us women, but a couple of men go along, too. and we have been, for many years now, taking outdoor wilderness adventure trips together. and it started back in 1980, when a bunch of us did a white-water raft trip out in idaho. and every year that grou--that group--it'll--it shifts. some--some years some people can't go and other people come in.
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it's not--not exactly the same crowd every time. but a bunch of us who--actually, when we started doing this, nobody was particularly important or--or any kind of a big cheese. we were--20 years ago we were just young and funny and--and enjoyed one another. and we got to where we--we'd--almost every summer we'd go and--on a--on a trek in the himalayas or climb machu picchu or take a kayak trip or--in alaska or--we've done all kinds of wonderful things together, and it r--we really do have an awfully good time. c-span: what's the value of all that? >> guest: it is sheer fun. you might think that, you know, as heavy hitters, members of the cabinet and this kind of thing on--all along on a trip that we would sit around having deep philosophical conversations or weighty policy discussions. we revert to being complete 13-year-olds on this trip. we just giggle and are really silly. c-span: do--do--do people change when they get power? >> guest: that's a good
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question. they often do. almost always they--they take them--start taking themselves quite seriously, which is... c-span: how about your friends you go hiking with? anybody... anybody... >> guest: they're still teasable. they're still teasable. c-span: do you see a change? >> guest: yeah, i do. no--more in donna than in alice rivlin. alice rivlin seems to me to have been--to be a wonderfully consistent human being. i think donna--donna is the same good person she always was, and she's trying to d--i think everything that she tries to do is good. i mean, i think all the policy idea are good. and, of course, she's remarkably effective in government. but i see--see in donna a--i guess it's just used to--being used to dealing with people in your daily life who are household names in the rest of the country.
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sometimes you get the impression that she's so used to dealing with big names and big people and important people that maybe she's not hanging out enough time with people of no particular distinction but great delight. c-span: the back of your book, jim lehrer... >> guest: mm-hmm. c-span: ... says--endorses the book by saying this book is not for everyone. what do you think he means by that? he goes on to say a lot of other things. >> guest: well, he knows perfectly well that my--my opinions are sort of on the left side of the political spectrum. i consider myself a populist rather than a liberal, but i'm--not worth quarreling over. c-span: what's that mean? >> guest: a populist? a populist is somebody who sees politics more from an economic perspective than an ideological perspective. i often argue that i don't think politics is a spectrum that runs from right to left. it's a scale that runs from top to bottom. and i think the only real political questions are: who's getting screwed, and who's doing the screwing?
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c-span: paul wellstone also gives you a nod in the back of the book. 'molly ivins insists on integrity and honestly in politics.' does that compromise you that he now has said nice things about you in front of everyone? >> guest: ah, that--that does. i've--i've often wondered--in fact, i'm--i'm glad my publisher called him and asked him for the blurb and that i didn't. i think it's bad policy for a journalist to owe a politician. i really do. c-span: jim hightower's on here, too. >> guest: yeah, but he's not a populist. c-span: 'thank you, jesus,' he says, 'here comes molly with another power-packed volume to cure what ails us.' you friends? >> guest: yeah. oh, yeah. favorite... c-span: same kind of politics? >> guest: ...fella--oh, yeah. jim is one of the great texas populists. you know, the populism started in texas. i mean, that's where the movement first came out of that thin, stoney soil in the central hill country of texas. and for years we had wonderful populist representatives: wright pattman in congress and sam rayburn, ralph yarborough in the senate.
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and the best texas politics were al--politicians were always at least part populist. but it's--we'd--i don't think we have anyone in public office anymore who really counts as a true populist. c-span: there's o--one line in here where you say the oil companies bought lyndon johnson. >> guest: sure they did. he's c--he carried water for the oil companies in the 1950s constantly. he was the senator from texas oil when he was in the senate. c-span: there's a story--a column in the progressive about the lord. >> guest: oh, yes, the--the--the lord impersonation problem. this has worried me considerably. c-span: now can you go back and set the scene on why you wro--and, by the way, you write for the nation, the progressive and the fort worth star telegram in here. >> guest: right. i'm--i'm very fond of writing for small progressive magazines that pay in the high two figures. this is the kind of fiscal sanity that has made me the woman of great wealth that i am today. i am p--i am shrewd, i'll tell you. c-span: what's the story about
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'this cad claiming to be god,' as you say? >> guest: this cad claiming to be god. what happened was a bunch of folks from floydada, texas... c-span: floy--go back to that. what's--what's the name of the town? >> guest: floydada. it's a... c-span: floydada? >> guest: floydada, texas. it's up in the panhandle. it's a particularly undistinguished town. and a whole bunch of them believed that the lord had told them to get naked, get in the car and drive to louisiana. and they get as far vinton, louisiana, and their car hits a tree. and to the absolute astonishment of the people who saw it happen, out of this car come about 20 naked people, including a bunch of kids who were stuck in the back. and... c-span: twenty? twenty people? >> guest: it was 20-so--i think it was more than 20. i can't remember the exact number. but there was just quite a few of them squashed all in there together. and they explained, as they were standing there on the street in vinton, louisiana, with their car droven into the tree, that the lord had told them to do this, which, o